LLE consultation delivers five key wins for the Lifelong Education Institute:
Integrating student finance
Abolishing ELQ restrictions
Increasing maintenance support
A national quality control framework
Per-credit course pricing
We welcome today’s release of the Government response to last year’s Lifelong Loan Entitlement consultation. The Skills and Post-16 Education Act brought about a radical shake-up of lifelong learning in the UK tertiary education sector. The LLE was one of its flagship measures, yet many key questions remained about the details of how lifelong learning finance would work in practice. The Act placed significant responsibility on further and higher education providers to upskill and retrain UK workers, to meet the UK’s skills needs in key sectors, and bolster growth in every part of the country. Today’s announcement will help provide greater clarity to the tertiary education sector as it moves to meet this expectation.
We are pleased to see that student finance across levels 4–6 will be unified, as we recommended in our response to the LLE consultation. This is a key stepping-stone towards a more comprehensive integration of tertiary education, which is a central plank of our mission as we evolve into the Lifelong Education Institute. Every learner must be able to use the freedom of choice that modular learning offers to mix and match courses from the whole spectrum of options: academic and technical, full-time and part-time, microcredentials and multi-year degrees. Harmonising the application and access points for tertiary learning finance helps smooth the path for learners to transition seamlessly from one qualification to the next. Level 7 and 8 course funding should be included in this as well, including postgraduate loans for master’s degrees, to complete the top-to-bottom integration of tertiary education.
We are gratified that the Government is removing the restrictions on financing Equivalent or Lower Qualifications. This is a move that we have called for since our inaugural report, to help people of all ages and stages of their lives and careers return to learning. We understand the rationale for starting the phase-in of modular funding with level 4–5 Higher Technical Qualifications, to boost the UK’s competitiveness in this area. But it is important that the later extension to other level 4–6 courses must be accompanied by detailed support and guidance for tertiary education providers as they carry out the modularisation of their existing teaching provision.
The introduction of targeted grants for all LLE-funded courses and maintenance loans for living costs is a vital ingredient in making the opportunities for lifelong learning work for everyone regardless of their financial circumstances. We have consistently argued that meaningful national or local support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds must be a central plank of how we level up skills in every part of the UK. We encourage the Government to expand the needs-based structure for targeted grants to cover not just tuition but maintenance as well, to overcome well-documented reticence among adult learners to taking on more loan debt alongside their existing costs.
Above all, we are delighted that the Government’s response has endorsed our call to establish a national accreditation and quality control framework for modular learning. But it remains unclear how the Government intends to measure the amount of learning each course contains to achieve consistent pricing. A comprehensive, interoperable credit transfer framework is a vital prerequisite for a consistent course pricing system, as this will allow learners to make the most informed choices about how to spend the funding available to them. As we develop the Lifelong Education Institute’s agenda, we will continue to make the case for this framework over the coming months and years.
In this light, we support the move towards setting fee limits for courses and modules lasting less than a year. But the Government can go still further, with modules priced according to their number of credits, as we have argued previously. In our response to the consultation, we advocated a per-credit funding model, with the proposed £37,000 of available funding (in today’s fees) giving an ‘exchange rate’ of roughly £77 per credit. We do not believe that the minimum boundary for LLE funding should be set at 30 credits, as these will disincentivise learners from taking 10-credit bite-sized units unless they can be bundled together to get over this limit. The same goes for the ‘parent course’ proposal: modules do not need to stack into a full qualification to deliver valuable skills for learners. The funding limit should be lowered from 30 to 10 credits, to let learners to make the most of a new generation of microcredentials.
Lastly, we are disappointed to see few details about how the Government intends to integrate an effective adult careers guidance system to help learners navigate what remains a complex qualifications landscape. This should be a major function of the information and guidance available through the Government’s proposed personal accounts, which should allow learners to directly access the National Careers Service. Course information should cover details of total student numbers and compositions, results breakdowns, placement success rates, and employability data, to give learners a realistic sense of the careers pathways each course opens up for them.
Overall, the Government’s response represents a significant move in the right direction for lifelong learning finance. We look forward to working with the Government and stakeholders across the tertiary education sector to help these new measures deliver to their best potential.